Haystack TV Scores $1.7 Million For Its News Service Aimed At Cord Cutters

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One of the problems with cutting the cord today is that you lose access to a variety of news channels and programs, and there are few resources in the streaming world that can take their place. A company working to address this problem, Haystack TV, has now raised $1.7 million in seed funding for its personalized news service aimed at specifically cord cutters.

But you don’t necessarily need to have severed ties entirely with your pay TV provider in order to take advantage of Haystack TV’s streams. While the company’s larger focus is providing a way for cord cutters to watch the news in a new format, its app also makes sense for those whose lives no longer revolve around so-called “appointment TV.”

That is, if you don’t tune in to the evening news on a regular basis, but still want to watch stories with a bit more depth to them than the “micro-news” popularized by services like Snapchat Discover or NowThisNews, for example, Haystack TV could fill that void. Its videos are brief – around 3 to 5 minutes in length – but are designed to be watched one after another in a continuous stream.

Investors in the seed round include Peter Kellner (founder of Endeavor Global), Inspovation Ventures, DeltaG Ventures, Larry Braitman, David Anderman (former COO of Lucasfilm), SGH Capital, and Stanford’s StartX Fund.

Personalized, Aggregated News

For those unfamiliar with the app, Haystack TV is essentially a news aggregator combined with personalization technology that gives you a customized feed of news stories that contain the news that’s important for everyone to know as well as those stories that are of most interest to you.

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Haystack TV, at present, pulls in content from over 150 news organizations who publish to YouTube. These video clips cover a variety of sectors, including world news, national news, business news, science and technology, entertainment, and more.

The startup, which was incubated at Stanford’s StartX accelerator in fall 2013, was launched around a year ago, initially as an Android tablet application before expanding to iPad, iPhone, Android smartphones, as well as Android TV. With that latter integration, the startup’s app will now be one of 28 launch partners for Google’s Android TV which will power TVs released this year by companies like Sony, Sharp, Phillips and others.

Haystack TV also works with Apple TV over AirPlay as well as with Chromecast, and will roll out support for more platforms, like Roku or Amazon’s Fire TV, in the future.

The idea for the startup comes from co-founders Daniel Barreto, previously the Chief Software Architect at Wyse (acquired by Dell) and a teacher at Stanford, along with Ish Harshawat, formerly the Mobile Architect at Cellfire (acquired by Catalina.) Combined, the two have launched products over the years which have reached millions of users on mobile and elsewhere.

But what prompted them to begin working on Haystack TV in the first place was a personal frustration. As new cord cutters themselves, they found themselves lacking in options for watching TV news online in a way that mirrored the lean-back experience they were used to from their cable TV days.

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“We tried to use YouTube,” explains Harshawat, “but it was really hard to find current news, and it’s not very good at surfacing trending video and then putting it together in a user experience that’s easy to use,” he says. For people who were used to the headline news experience, YouTube by itself was not a good replacement, Harshawat adds.

So instead, the team built technology that allows Haystack TV to scan the thousands of news videos that are shared daily and analyze millions of data points about those videos, including things like what people are saying about them on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere. By understanding what a given video is about, Haystack TV can classify the video appropriately, so its users can build their personalized news channel.

But unlike Facebook’s News Feed, which begins to customize itself to your interests sometimes to the exclusion of important news and information, Haystack TV still features important trending news of the day in addition to those stories you personally care about. You initially train the product by selecting your favorite categories and topics, but the more you use it, the service adapts by learning what stories you watch and which ones you skip.

More recently, the company has been having discussions with news publishers and local news stations in order to establish partnerships that could expand its content selection further. Already, it’s piloting local news in four metro regions: San Francisco, Boston, New York and L.A., with more in the works. Eventually, its business model may include advertising, including possibly pre-roll or native ads, but this is still being tested.

Haystack TV won’t disclose the size of its user base, but notes that its users have watched millions of videos to date, and, on average, spend 15 minutes per session in its apps, and 80 minutes on the service per week.

The startup also plans to use the new funding to double its team of four to eight, and continue improving its personalization technology.